Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has made few public appearances since she was wounded more than a year ago, but most recently, she was onstage at a Jan. 8 memorial event at the University of Arizona.


Gabrielle Giffords will leave Congress this week.

Her announcement comes one year and two weeks after she was shot through the brain at a Congress on Your Corner event. The rampage killed six people and wounded 13, including Giffords.

Her decision, released in a glossy video message to her constituents in Congressional District 8, could not have been easy.

Anyone who knows - or has even met - Giffords knows how much she loves her job. She would often say that she has the best job in the world because she has the privilege of representing Southern Arizonans.

"I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week," she says in the video.

Giffords' representatives, including her husband, Mark Kelly, have said that she would make a decision about getting back to work, and then about whether to run for re-election.

Her decision displays both her determination to return to public service - and the evident realization that she won't be able to return to work as quickly as she had hoped.

Giffords will attend the State of the Union Address at the Capitol on Tuesday. She will also meet with constituents, some of those who were there last Jan. 8 to speak with her at the Congress on Your Corner, and she'll visit the Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center at the the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

Giffords' absence will be felt. While she has not been publicly active in Congress during the past year - save for a surprise visit to the House in August to vote on the debt ceiling deal - it was clear that her positions on issues, her priorities and her dedication to constituent service continued to drive her congressional office.

The CD 8 offices will remain open until a new representative is elected later this year.

Tucsonans and the nation have followed Giffords' recovery at every step - so much so that Giffords came to symbolize recovery in our community.

Each move forward in rebuilding her life became a victory for a town in need of hope, for individuals facing hardships and for a community dealing with tragedy.

Giffords' decision was hers alone to make. We may disagree with the timing and debate political strategy, but in the end only Giffords, having spent several years in Congress, knows if she is physically up to the job right now.

We do not doubt Giffords' tenacity and determination to regain every ability she can. "I'm getting better. Every day, my spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country," she says in the video.

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On a practical level, however, Giffords' resignation throws open a can of political worms.

Gov. Jan Brewer has 72 hours after receiving Giffords' letter of resignation to set dates for the special primary and general elections. The winner will fill out Giffords' term, which ends at the end of the year.

The earliest that person could be voted in would be early June, based on proscribed time frames for filling the seat.

The wrinkle, and it's a big one, is that the congressional seat is already up in the regular November general election. This means a candidate who won the seat in the June election to replace Giffords would have to decide whether to run for a new, full term in November.

It would have been more expedient, from a political perspective, for Giffords to have simply waited a bit longer and announce that she will not seek re-election. If a member of Congress resigns within six months of the general election, no special election is required.

But Giffords has decided that it is time to leave - at least for now.

And so it begins. A Republican state legislator who had already formed an exploratory committee wasted no time in setting up a meeting with his campaign committee Sunday afternoon, just hours after Giffords' announcement.

Others will follow. As disappointing as it is for Democrats, as well as many independents and some Republicans, who had pinned their political hopes on Giffords' speedy recovery, this is how the process is supposed to work. If a member of Congress resigns, even after surviving an assassin's bullet, steps are outlined to replace that person.

For Giffords' supporters, the best thing to do at this point is to become involved in the political process. Find a centrist candidate who has positions similar to Giffords' on solar energy, the border and immigration reform, and who is a strong proponent of public education and veterans affairs.

The political drama will now take center stage, as it always seems to, skewing priorities and real life problems into sound bites, campaign jabs and attempts at pithy comments.

Tucson lost a lot Jan. 8., 2011. We lost dear friends and family members, and we lost the illusion of security that surrounds the mundane tasks of every day life.

What must not be lost as we look toward what comes next: the energetic service and the commitment to the people of Southern Arizona that Giffords came to symbolize through her political career and recovery.